Apr 15 2016

Raven Solves A Problem


Common ravens (Corvus corax) are known for their intelligence and problem solving abilities.

This one solved his own problem, though he created trouble for humans and dogs in the process.  😉


(video from The Raven Diaries on YouTube)

One response so far

Apr 14 2016

This Saturday and Sunday at the National Aviary

Kate St. John (photo by Thom Moeller)

This Saturday and Sunday, as part of Sky Kings Weekend, I’ll be presenting Celebrate Pittsburgh’s Peregrines! at the National Aviary.

Come on down for the 12:30pm show on Saturday April 16 or Sunday April 17.

Click here for more information on my Events page.


(photo by Tom Moeller)

9 responses so far

Apr 14 2016

The Don’t Walk Robin

American robin nesting on the Don't Walk sign (photo by Kate St. John)

American robin nesting on the Don’t Walk sign (photo by Kate St. John)

On Throw Back Thursday:

American robins have already begun to nest this month.  Back in April 2009 I noticed that one had chosen an unusual nest site on South Craig Street.

Can you see the bird incubating in front of the “Don’t Walk” sign?

Read more about her in this article called:  Don’t Walk!


(photo by Kate St. John)

2 responses so far

Apr 13 2016

Pittsburgh’s Redbud Project

Published by under Books & Events,Trees

Redbud blooming (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Redbud blooming (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Imagine that Pittsburgh was as beautiful in the spring as Washington, D.C. during the Cherry Blossom Festival.

That’s the vision that local landscape architect Frank Dawson had when he proposed planting eastern redbud trees along Pittsburgh’s riverfronts.

This spring the dream is starting to come true.

Thanks to a grant from Colcom Foundation, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy is launching the Pittsburgh Redbud Project.  From now through Spring 2017 they’ll plant 1,200 eastern redbud and other native trees in Downtown Pittsburgh and along the city’s riverfronts.  Everyone who helps through May 12 will get a free seedling. (They’re giving away 1,500 of them!)

Eastern redbuds (Cercis canadensis) are understory trees in the Pea family that bloom in early spring.  Native from southern Pennsylvania to eastern Texas, they’re cultivated for their beauty because their rose-pink flowers open on bare branches before the leaves.

Come to the Redbud Project’s Launch Event on Tuesday, April 19 at 10:00am at the Three Rivers Heritage Trail near the Mister Rogers statue.  Students and volunteers will plant 60 trees along the riverfront.  Attendees get a free redbud seedling.  (Click here for more information, here to RSVP.)

Here’s a planting along River Avenue to give you an idea of the beautiful results.

Redbud trees along River Road, Pittsburgh, April 2016 (photo courtesy Western PA Conservancy)

Redbud trees along River Avenue, Pittsburgh, April 2016 (photo courtesy Western PA Conservancy)

More events and volunteer opportunities are coming in the weeks ahead. Click here for a list.  Get a free tree!

Soon our Downtown and riverfronts will be transformed.


(photos: redbud flowers’ closeup by Dianne Machesney. Row of redbud trees on River Avenue, courtesy Western Pennsylvania Conservancy)

7 responses so far

Apr 12 2016

Pigeons Have A Favorite Foot

Rock pigeon hopping down a step (photo by Pimthida via Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Rock pigeon hopping down a step (photo by Pimthida via Flickr, Creative Commons license)


Most of us have a dominant hand that’s our favorite choice for everything that requires skill.  About 90% of us are right-handed.

Did you know that pigeons (Columba livia) have a favorite foot?  And that most of them are right-footed?

This was discovered by Harvey I. Fisher at Southern Illinois University in the mid 1950’s while he was looking for something else.  In 1954-1955 he was studying the landing force that pigeons exert on a perch, so he recorded the actions of 11 pigeons landing a total of 4,000 times.

That’s when he noticed that most of them extended one foot and landed on it first, and that they had a favorite foot for doing this.  He ran more experiments, tallying 7,259 landings.

Seven of the 11 pigeons were right-footed, three were left-footed and one didn’t have a favorite.  That’s about 63% right-footedness.  Read more here in his 1957 article: Footedness in Domestic Pigeons.

I found out this interesting factlet at the Urban Wildlife Guide’s Right-footed Pigeons, and was so intrigued that I bought the book: Field Guide to Urban Wildlife by Julie Feinstein. (I highly recommend it by the way.)

So what do you think?  Is this pigeon left-footed?  Or is he just tucking his right foot so it doesn’t hit the step?


(photo by Pimthida via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license. Click on the image to see the original)

One response so far

Apr 11 2016

Look For Perching Peregrines

Published by under Peregrines

There's a peregrine in this picture. Can you see him? (photo by Kate St. John)

There’s a peregrine in this picture. Can you see him? (photo by Kate St. John)

Here’s a quiz.  And a plea for help.

There’s a peregrine falcon in the picture above.  Can you see him?

When I took this photo from an office window last spring I already knew the nest was nearby.

This spring the Downtown Pittsburgh peregrines have moved again.  We don’t know where, but we can find the nest if we find a perching peregrine.  That’s because the male perches within sight or sound of the nest while the female is incubating.

Within sight(?):  On April 6, Trinidad Regaspi saw a peregrine perched on the SPACE Gallery building at 812 Liberty Avenue.

Within sound(?): Yesterday morning at 7:45am, Matt Webb was on his BirdSafe route when he heard a peregrine calling from the direction of the old Horne’s Building at Penn and Stanwix.   Doug Cunzolo checked it out an hour later but couldn’t find anything except lots of workmen erecting scaffolding on the building.  The workmen were still there when I came by at 5:00pm.

I didn’t find a peregrine yesterday but there are plenty of places to look.  That’s why I need your help.

Here’s what to do (as posted last week):

Look up! Or look out of your office window.  Look for a perching peregrine. One of the pair will perch in the vicinity of the nest while the other one incubates.

Tips on where to look:
Look at old buildings, probably less than 20 stories. Look at ornate parts of the architecture, window ledges, etc. The peregrines are often camouflaged on ornate buildings.

I do not need to know if you see peregrines flying.  (They fly everywhere.)  I do need to know where they perch.

Mission impossible? Not if you help.

If you see a perching peregrine, leave a comment telling me where it is and I’ll come Downtown to check.

Keep looking up!


p.s.  Even if you don’t live in Pittsburgh, these instructions are good for finding nesting peregrines in cities.

(photo by Kate St. John)

27 responses so far

Apr 10 2016

Blue-Eyed Mary in Bloom

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Blue-eyed Mary blooming at Cedar Creek Park, 6 April 2016 (photo by Donna Foyle)

Blue-eyed Mary blooming at Cedar Creek Park, 6 April 2016 (photo by Donna Foyle)

It’s cold this morning — and snowy for some of you — but when the weather improves you’ll find …

Blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia verna) usually blooms in southwestern Pennsylvania from mid April to early May but we found it at Cedar Creek Park on Wednesday April 6.

This annual drops its seeds in summer, germinates seedlings in the fall, and overwinters to bloom in the spring.  It spreads by reseeding so you usually find it in patches — that look more green than blue from a distance.

Blue-eyed Mary patch at Cedar Creek Park, 6 April 2016 (photo by Donna Foyle)

Blue-eyed Mary patch at Cedar Creek Park, 6 April 2016 (photo by Donna Foyle)

Collinsia verna grows in woodlands with light to dappled shade and moist to mesic rich loamy soil.  Though the plant can be locally abundant, its habitat can be hard to find.  Blue-eyed Mary is endangered in New York and Tennessee.

Here are three places in southwestern Pennsylvania to see Blue-eyed Mary this month:


(photos by Donna Foyle)

One response so far

Apr 08 2016

Juvenile Female Makes Brief Intrusion at Pitt Nest

Juvenile female bows to Terzo at Pitt peregrine nest, 8 April 2016, 3:13pm (photo from National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Juvenile female bows to Terzo at Pitt peregrine nest, 8 April 2016, 3:13pm (photo from National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

This afternoon webcam viewers were surprised to see a brown-colored falcon arrive at the Pitt peregrine nest and then bow and e-chup at Terzo as he was incubating.

Terzo was surprised, too.  He got up off the eggs and flew away leaving this juvenile, unbanded female to pause for a heartbeat … and then fly away as well.

Click here for the archived footage: Juvenile female visits the nest.

Juvenile unbanded female at Pitt peregrine nest, pausing before she leaves (photo from National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Juvenile unbanded female at Pitt peregrine nest, pausing before she leaves (photo from National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

4 minutes later Terzo returned to the eggs.

40 minutes later Hope returned to incubate.

I’ve not had time to review all the footage but so far the archives show no sights or sounds of a fight with Hope.  Apparently Hope chased off this juvenile intruder.

For now, all is calm.


p.s. Thanks to Zack and sheba50 for pointing out this brief intrusion.  It was so brief that at first I couldn’t find any evidence of it.  I had to review a lot of footage to find it!

(photos from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

30 responses so far

Apr 08 2016

Great Blue Heron Courtship


Let’s take a break from birds of prey. Here’s a story about another species.

Great blue herons (Ardea herodias) are returning to Pennsylvania and gathering at their rookeries to court and nest.

This video from Florida shows their elegant gestures and courtship rituals as they build their pair bond.

An added bonus on the video are the bird sounds in the background.  Listen and you’ll hear sandhill cranes, boat-tailed grackles and American coots.


(video by Filming Florida on YouTube)


6 responses so far

Apr 07 2016

Red-tails Close to Us

Published by under Birds of Prey

Red-tailed hawk takes off (photo by Bill Barron)

Red-tailed hawk takes off from Bill’s chimney (photo by Bill Barron)

Red-tailed hawks who live in the city are habituated to people.  They go about their business hunting squirrels and eating pigeons — even on the ground — while we walk by or stand and gawk.

This spring a pair of red-tailed hawks is building a nest on Pitt’s campus.  They experimented with a tree on the Cathedral of Learning lawn but by Tuesday it was clear they’d chosen the top of a large London plane tree next to the Student Union.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens next.

Will the hawks ultimately use this nest?  Will Pitt’s peregrines forbid them from gaining altitude so close to the Cathedral of Learning?  (I’ve already seen Terzo hammer one of the hawks.)  Will people notice the nest at all?

If the nest was close to the ground, the red-tails would become nervous about us walking below it and might threaten us to chase us away.  This rarely happens but it’s memorable, as in this incident at Fenway Park eight years ago –> Red-tails Close to Home.

The red-tail nest on Pitt’s campus is way too high up for that. The hawks and the peregrines will have to work out their boundaries but we ground-based humans are of little interest to them.

And that’s as it should be.


(photo by Bill Barron)

7 responses so far

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